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Hating America In The Heartland

Washburn University in Kansas believes a statue of Benjamin Franklin (like this one) and one of Thomas Jefferson are too embarrassing to have on its woke campus (Tetra Images/Getty Images)

Look at this:

Statues of Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin have been removed from the Washburn University campus after protests against racial injustice elsewhere led to statues honoring slaveholders being vandalized, pulled down or moved, the school said Thursday.

The two bronze statues that had stood outside the university’s law school in Topeka for two decades were removed in July after Washburn President Jerry Farley discussed the concerns with the family of the donor, who has since died, school spokesman Patrick Early said.

In Topeka. Topeka! Not New Haven, not Cambridge, not Ithaca or Palo Alto. Topeka. 

This is an important insight:

To be fair to the institution, it does not appear to have been a decision made the the administration:

Some Washburn students have questioned the propriety of the statutes but the decision to remove them from campus was not in response to a protest or request from students, Early said.

“It was the donor’s decision to have the statues returned,” he said. “They didn’t want the statues to become a source of embarrassment so they asked that they be returned.”

But that is misleading. Campus Reform reports:

Washburn University President Jerry Farley said he wanted to get ahead of possible disapproval of the founding father statues during an interview with WIBW-TV. The move came just months after the University of Missouri rejected calls by students to remove a statue of Thomas Jefferson because he was a slave owner, as Campus Reform reported at the time.

“They didn’t want the statues to become a source of embarrassment so they asked that they be returned.”

Farley called the widow of statue donor alum Gerald Michaud, who died in 2005, to explain his concerns about the statue situation.

According to Farley, a family representative said if it was going to start problems, they didn’t want their name associated with it. Then, the donor family asked for the statues to be returned to them.

The donor’s family responded to efforts by the university’s president to censor the statues before students even protested against them. Farley is one more example of a gutless university administrator who is abandoning standards to placate the woke mob — in this case, anticipating what the woke mob wants before the even demand it! We are in a country now in which bronze statues of the Founding Fathers stand to be a “source of embarrassment” to our elites and the institutions they run.

This is class war conducted as culture war. 

The ruling class in our institutions want to erase American history, to purge our cultural memory. It has never been more important for us to commit ourselves to preserving our cultural memory. Chapter Six of my forthcoming book Live Not By Lies is about cultivating cultural memory as a means of resistance to soft totalitarianism. Excerpts:

Forgetting the atrocities of communism is bad enough. What is even more dangerous is the habit of forgetting one’s past. The Czech novelist Milan Kundera drily observes that nobody today will defend gulags, but the world remains full of suckers for the false utopian promises that bring gulags into existence.

“Not to know what happened before you were born is to remain a child forever,” said Cicero. This, explains Kundera, is why communists placed such emphasis on conquering the minds and hearts of young people. In his novel The Book of Laughter and Forgetting, Kundera recalls a speech that Czech president Gustáv Husák gave to a group of Young Pioneers, urging them to keep pressing forward to the Marxist paradise of peace, justice, and equality.

“Children, never look back!,” [cries Kundera’s character Husak], and what he meant was that we must never allow the future to collapse under the burden of memory.

A collective loss of historical memory—not just memory of communism but memory of our shared cultural past—within the West is bound to have a devastating effect on our future. It’s not that forgetting the evils of communism means we are in danger of re-creating precisely that form of totalitarianism. It’s that the act of forgetting itself makes us vulnerable to totalitarianism in general.

Put another way, we not only have to remember totalitarianism to build a resistance to it; we have to remember how to remember, period.

More:

In his 1989 book, How Societies Remember, the late British social anthropologist Paul Connerton explains that there are different kinds of memory. Historical memory is an objective recollection of past events. Social memory is what a people choose to remember—that is, deciding collectively which facts about past events it believes to be important. Cultural memory constitutes the stories, events, people, and other phenomena that a society chooses to remember as the building blocks of its collective identity. A nation’s gods, its heroes, its villains, its landmarks, its art, its music, its holidays—all these things are part of its cultural memory.

Connerton says that “participants in any social order must presuppose a shared memory.” Memory of the past conditions how they experience the present—that is, how they grasp its meaning, how they are to understand it, and what they are supposed to do in it.

No culture, and no person, can remember everything. A culture’s memory is the result of its collective sifting of facts to produce a story—a story that society tells itself to remember who it is. Without collective memory, you have no culture, and without a culture, you have no identity.
The more totalitarian a regime’s nature, the more it will try to force people to forget their cultural memories.

In Nineteen Eighty-Four, the role of Winston Smith within the Ministry of Information is to erase all newspaper records of past events to reflect the current political priorities of the Party. This, said the ex-communist Polish intellectual Leszek Kołakowski, reflects “the great ambition of totalitarianism—the total possession and control of human memory.”

“Let us consider what happens when the ideal has been effectively achieved,” says Kołakowski. “People remember only what they are taught to remember today and the content of their memory changes overnight, if needed.”

In an interview for the book I did with him in the last summer of his life, Sir Roger Scruton recalled going to Czechoslovakia in the 1970s and 1980s, and discovering how Czech dissidents were doing what they could to keep their culture’s memory alive under communist totalitarianism. From Live Not By Lies:

When he and his British academic colleagues began to visit communist Czechoslovakia in the late 1970s, Scruton tells me, they were astonished to discover that the Czechs “were determined to cling to their cultural inheritance because they thought that it contained the truth, not just about their history, but the truth about their soul, about what they fundamentally are. That was the thing that the communists couldn’t take away.”

Scruton and his academic colleagues discovered that the Czech students were starving for knowledge, and not just theoretical knowledge. They wanted to learn so they could know how to live, especially under a dictatorship of lies. Along those lines, in Notes from Underground, his 2014 novel set in Czechoslovakia of the 1980s, Scruton’s protagonist, a young man named Jan, finds his way into Prague dissident circles. His guide tells him what to expect:

And he added that there would be special seminars from time to time, with visitors from the West, who would inform us of the latest scholarship, and help us to remember. “To remember what?” I asked. He looked at me long and hard. “To remember what we are.”

These seminars forged what Scruton, quoting Czech dissident Jan Patočka, described as “the solidarity of the shattered.” They were an act of responsibility by the old—those who still had their memories of what was real— toward the young. The formal institutions of Czech life—universities first among them—could no longer be trusted to tell the truth and to transmit the cultural memories that told Czechs who they were. But the task had to be done, or as Milan Hübl said, the Czech people would disappear.

Pre-order Live Not By Lieshere. The sooner we understand how radical — striking at the roots — wokeness is, the better able we will be to organize against it.

These people hate America. If Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson, signers of the US Constitution, are too offensive to be memorialized at a law school in Topeka, Kansas, then what other conclusion can we draw?

Now is the time to start protesting, loudly, against this gutting of American history and American higher education by these radicals and the cowardly institutional leaders who will not stand up to them. Washburn is a public university. What does the Kansas legislature have to say about this outrage?

A clip from the front web page of Washburn.edu:

 

Is that where we are now? In order to affirm that Black Lives Matter, we have to hate the Founding Fathers, and remove all evidence of them from our sight? We can’t ask rhetorically “is this what the Left really wants?”, because of course it’s what the Left wants. And it’s what they’re getting.

It is also is time to start forming these Czech-style seminars and discussion groups so our people don’t forget who we are. In The Benedict Option, I talk about the importance of classical education as forming an imaginative bulwark against forced forgetting. I hope you can now see why classical education is a true act of resistance. The left wants us to forget who we are, so we can be remade according to their ideological preferences. We cannot let them!

Along those lines, Facebook confirmed today that it is deleting all posts expressing sympathy for Kyle Rittenhouse, the teenager charged with killing two protesters in Kenosha. Breitbart called them to confirm:

In a comment to Breitbart News, a Facebook spokesman confirmed that the company is removing posts “in support” of Rittenhouse, because the incident is considered a “mass murder” by the company.

“We’ve designated the shooting in Kenosha a mass murder and are removing posts in support of the shooter, including this one,” said the spokesman.

Mass murder?! He killed two people! He might have been wrong to have done so — there is a case that it was self-defense, but let’s say for the sake of argument that he is wrong — but for pity’s sake, killing two people at a riot is not mass murder. Yet Facebook is managing this story to keep people from talking about it in a way that is not consonant with the Left’s narrative.

Get this: Breitbart reports that a man who had his Facebook post about Rittenhouse deleted did not even praise Rittenhouse, but only described a video clip of him, pre-shooting, offering to help somebody, and mildly commenting that it was favorable to the kid:

We can’t say that now on Facebook, though. Mark Dice said Facebook threatened to close down his account over the video, which he posted on Twitter — see it while you can. As I write in Live Not By Lies, we are heading fast into a situation in which these social media giants regulate away even mainstream, ordinary conservative viewpoints:

In another all-too-common example, the populist Vox party in Spain had its Twitter access temporarily suspended when, in January 2020, a politician in the Socialist Party accused the Vox party of “hate speech,” for opposing the Socialist-led government’s plan to force schoolchildren to study gender ideology, even if parents did not consent.

To be sure, Twitter, a San Francisco-based company with 330 million global users, especially among media and political elites, is not a publicly regulated utility; it is under no legal obligation to offer free speech to its users. But consider how it would affect everyday communications if social media and other online channels that most people have come to depend on—Twitter, Gmail, Facebook, and others—were to decide to cut off users whose religious or political views qualified them as bigots in the eyes of the digital commissars?

It’s happening right now, and is going to be getting much worse, fast. You must forget and despise America’s Founders to prove that you aren’t a racist. You must accept that certain enemies of the people are guilty of crimes, and not dispute that publicly. You must affirm these lies, or be condemned.

If you call this alarmism, I would merely like to warn you that you had better open your eyes right now, or you are going to leave yourself and your family defenseless. It’s 1943 in America. I really believe that.

UPDATE: A great letter from a reader:

I follow your blog closely and have been musing on the statue iconoclasm afoot. I wanted to explain how, from a reverse direction, you have convinced me of the importance of statues to historical memory.
In the early 2000s I attended and graduated from the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. And Knoxville is the largest city in East TN, where Alex Haley spent a significant portion of his early and later life. Knoxville is proud of the fact that one of the most read black authors in American history was from our area, he the author of Roots and the co-author of The Autobiography of Malcolm X.
And yet, throughout my time at UT, I found it amusing and even shameful that the UT library, the largest library in the state, had a bust of Alex Haley in a prominent place on the 2nd floor of the library. Why shameful? Not at all because of Haley’s influence, but rather because before he died, he basically had to admit that Roots had significant portions of plagiarized material, and even made-up material. I mean, even Henry Louis Gates Jr., the godfather of the African-American literary canon, says so. And irony of ironies, I spent all of college reading in every single syllabus in every single class that there was swift and severe punishment, including expulsion from the university, for plagiarism. Why would we have a bust in the library of a well-known plagiarist when it’s punished severely everywhere else? To boot, why do we have this enormous statue and park named after him in East Knoxville?
But I no longer think that. Why? Because you’ve convinced me that great historical figures aren’t perfect, and we must remember the past. Plagiarized sections or not, Haley has had an enormous influence on American life and Black history, and we can’t wash out the good with the bad. I don’t want to see Haley taken down, and I don’t want to see Jefferson either.
I would add one final thought: the severity of their sins are inordinately asymmetrical. Jefferson as an owner of slaves is demonstrably more a sinner than the plagiarist Haley. The point here is historical memory, and we need both men to make sense of the history of America.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. A veteran of three decades of magazine and newspaper journalism, he has also written three New York Times bestsellers—Live Not By Lies, The Benedict Option, and The Little Way of Ruthie Lemingas well as Crunchy Cons and How Dante Can Save Your Life. Dreher lives in Baton Rouge, La.

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